NYT's Keller: Fox News is 'Murdoch’s Most Toxic Legacy'

Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, devoted his latest Sunday Review column on the evil that is the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News: "Murdoch’s Pride Is America’s Poison."

(Times Watch has documented the long anti-Fox, anti-Murdoch obsession of both Keller and Howell Raines, another former executive editor, which recently culminated in the paper's heavy front-page coverage of  Murdoch's travails in Britain.)

On Sunday, Keller used news of three upcoming books about Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes to bash Fox. After describing the unfolding "crisis" around Rupert Murdoch in Britain, he made his segue across the Atlantic:

In this beleaguered family of news enterprises, Fox is the good son. It is the most reliable profit center, expected to net a billion dollars this fiscal year. It is untainted so far by the metastasizing scandals. It is a source of political influence more durable than Murdoch’s serial romances with British prime ministers. This year the Fox News Primary probably did more to nominate Mitt Romney than New Hampshire or Michigan.

And yet I would argue that -- at least for Americans -- Fox News is Murdoch’s most toxic legacy.

The liberal Keller unconvincingly argued that his beef with Fox had nothing to do with the network's position as the sole right-leaning news channel:

My gripe against Fox is not that it is conservative. The channel’s pulpit-pounding pundits, with the exception of the avuncular Mike Huckabee, are too shrill for my taste, but they are not masquerading as impartial newsmen. Nor am I indignant that Fox News is the cultural home of the Republican Party and a nonstop Obama roast. Partisan journalism, while not my thing, has a long tradition. Though I do wonder if the folks at Fox appreciate that this genre is more European than American.

My complaint is that Fox pretends very hard to be something it is not, and in the process contributes to the corrosive cynicism that has polarized our public discourse.

I doubt that people at Fox News really believe their programming is “fair and balanced” -- that’s just a slogan for the suckers -- but they probably are convinced that what they have created is the conservative counterweight to a media elite long marinated in liberal bias. They believe that they are doing exactly what other serious news organizations do; they just do it for an audience that had been left out before Fox came along.

After confessing a few relatively minor errors (but not liberal bias) on behalf of the press, Keller defended the ethics of his non-Fox colleagues.

But we try to live by a code, a discipline, that tells us to set aside our personal biases, to test not only facts but the way they add up, to seek out the dissenters and let them make their best case, to show our work. We write unsparing articles about public figures of every stripe -- even, sometimes, about ourselves. When we screw up -- and we do -- we are obliged to own up to our mistakes and correct them.


For a year and a half a journalist named Gabriel Sherman has been gathering material for a book on Ailes. He writes mostly for New York magazine, the kind of irreverent urban venue from which Ailes would naturally expect no kindness, but Sherman’s work is densely reported and not innuendo-laden or agenda-driven. (He has written a fair amount about The Times, and pulled no punches.) He may be 32, but he’s old-school.

Sherman, predictably, was rebuffed.

Keller later relayed his sole example of New York Times fairness -- a Times Sunday Magazine profile of Rush Limbaugh by outside contributor Zev Chafets -- and demonstrated remarkable oversensitivity while defending Sherman from a mild observation by Chafets.

Early this year, Sherman learned of a third entry in the Ailes book-a-thon. Zev Chafets was racing to finish an Ailes biography with the cooperation of the subject. Chafets had won favor among conservatives when he wrote a magazine profile of the radio fire-breather Rush Limbaugh, a profile so evenhanded that Limbaugh subsequently cooperated as Chafets expanded it into a best-selling book.

By the way, that evenhanded profile was published in The New York Times. And I can easily imagine a similarly fair-minded portrait running on NBC or CNN or NPR. Can anyone imagine Fox airing an unloaded profile of anyone left of center? Say, Nancy Pelosi?


But Chafets couldn’t resist mentioning -- twice -- that Sherman has a fellowship from “a George Soros-funded institution.” Actually, the fellowship in question is from a nonpartisan foundation that gets a minuscule share of its funding (0.5 percent this year) from Soros, the liberal billionaire, and Ailes’s own collaborator, James Pinkerton, was also a fellow at the foundation. But in the Fox mind-set, Soros is a boogeyman, so this is like insinuating that Sherman is on the payroll of the Socialist International.

That’s journalism, Fox-style.

So "Fox-style" journalism means accurate reporting?

Chafets' profile was indeed fair, as Times Watch recognized at the time. One who found it far too even-handed was Times reporter and critic Janet Maslin, who tastelessly accused Chafets of  suffering from "a case of Stockholm syndrome."